Spring cleaning your email list for deliverability

Spring cleaning your email list for deliverability

The weather outside may be frightful, but I’ve got spring cleaning on my mind. We’re in the middle of a big email list cleaning project for a major non-profit client, and learned some interesting stuff along the way about email deliverability and email list cleaning for non-profits and political campaigns.

Any list that has been around awhile has accumulated bad email addresses. People change jobs, change ISPs, change names… and even the ISPs merge or go under or just rebrand. So email addresses that once were good, decay. Then there are the email addresses that were never good – typo’d on entry. Also roving spambots are filling in online forms left and right with garbage. Plus there are the garden variety duplicate records created by people clicking forms too many times etc. If you’re a candidate for office who has run in the past and carried your list through periods of inactivity or a long-established non-profit with records dating back years ago, there will be a lot of clunkers on there. This is especially true if you have received lists from other non-profits or campaigns in the past.

Improving email deliverability of your email list with email list cleaning for non-profits and political campaignsThese bad addresses mess your stats up. You may think you have a list of 100,000 people, and your email program reports show sends are going out to 100,000 people. But if 10,000 of them are ghosts, your open and click rate is so much better than you think! Minor thing, right?

Yeah, but this is where it gets interesting. Did you know that some of the major email providers recycle old dead email addresses as spam traps? So emailing to the ghosts is not so harmless after all. It can get you flagged as a spammer and hurt deliverability to the real live supporters on your list.

The big ISPs like Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo etc. use engagement levels (how many people open, click, mark your emails as not spam etc.) to determine whether you get shunted off to the spam folder or not. If you’re sending to ghosts, there won’t be any engagement… and this will hurt your deliverability to the live ones. We’ve seen this with many non-profits and Gmail. Read more from our email deliverability guide for non-profits and political campaigns to learn how to handle this particular problem.

Also most mass email programs do their pricing in tiers based on how many records you have – so you may be paying more a month for service, based on ghosts!

Whatever service you use, they are no doubt tracking hard and soft bounces. They usually (but not always) disable records once a record hits a certain number of bounces. Check with your mass email service provider to make sure this is happening, don’t assume it! Good email list hygiene practices will improve your deliverability.

But you know there are some good records trapped in the bucket of bad addresses, just typo’d like hotmial.com etc. And you also know there are some duplicates in there too, unless you’ve painstakingly merged them.

So what can you do?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention we can help! We have access to mailing address data and can clean up/append mailing addresses, clean up typo’d email addresses automatically, search for duplicate records based on multiple criteria and more at affordable rates. There are other firms out there that will do this too.

But there’s also some list cleaning you can do yourself.

Use a Welcome email or series of emails to new people on your list. Weed out the typos and spambots right away. Here’s some proof of how effective a welcome email series can be for a non-profit.

Take the time to learn the ins and outs of your mass email software’s de-duplicating feature, and use it regularly. Many (most?) systems will avoid sending out multiple emails if you have duplicate records with the same email address. But my inbox is ample proof that not all do this. Or do it well. And the last thing you want to do is irritate your good supporters by sending them multiple emails every time.

If your mass email program doesn’t automatically disable records after a certain amount of hard (or soft) bounces, then you should do it manually. Hard bounces are pretty self-explanatory. Soft bounces sound harmless because they’re just temporary, right? Well, not so much. Check with your ESP to find out what their policies are, and make sure these records are being automatically disabled. This is a basic step for good email list hygiene. Salsa specific tip: make sure you install the “bounce limits package” for this – it’s free, but you need to ask for it.

You could then go through the bouncing records by hand if you like to catch typos. Your email provider may have a canned report that lists all the email address domains, which is another tool to use when typo hunting – look for good old gmial.com, yahooo.com etc. Fun(?) project for interns, or just a slow day when you want something mindless to occupy your time.

I wish there was one repository out there of all the defunct domains and domain name changes. One place that reports (some) of them is the very nice Al Iverson blog. For example that’s where I learned that all alltel.net addresses switched to windstream.net awhile back. Have you checked to see if your list made the switch? Don’t forget to deduplicate after you do a mass email cleanup.

Check to see if there are problems with email deliverability to specific domains. You may want to run a report that breaks out open rates by domain – a good way to find out whether any ISPs are blocking your content. You may be unpleasantly surprised by what you find.

Consider an email verification service. If your list hasn’t been used in a long time, or if you know there are email deliverability issues, there are some paid services out there that can verify that the emails on your list are deliverable. (They can’t guarantee the people will check their email or will open and interact with your messages though!) NationBuilder has an integrated service available through Accurate Append that charges 1 cent per record to verify it. If you’re using Salsa or BSD or NGP etc., you could export your list to a service from Accurate Append, Fresh Address, Melissa Data, Tower Data or others and have them verify the emails, then re-import.

Re-engage your supporters. Build some queries to find out who hasn’t taken an action recently, and try to get them off the fence. Send one last “we miss you” email to test for signs of life.

Then take the plunge and disable records if there’s been no action and opens for a year (or 6 months, if you’re having severe problems) and they ignore your last chance email, because those inactives are holding you back.

Note that the firms which offer email verification services (Accurate Append, Fresh Address, Melissa Data, Tower Data etc.) usually offer Email Change of Address services too, which can attempt to find a newer address for your records (based on their own proprietary commercial databases). Pay attention to whether the record is matched to the individual or to the household if you use this service.

One more email deliverability tip: make sure you set a SPF record for your domain. SPF stands for “Sender Policy Framework” and verifies that the email sender has permission to send email on your behalf, so email purportedly coming from info@your.org but sent by salsalabs.com or constantcontact.com etc. doesn’t look like spam. Here’s the Salsa how-to and the Mailchimp how-to and the Constant Contact how-to and the Convio how-to and NationBuilder how-to.

Have more questions or need help list cleaning or improving email deliverability for your organization? Contact PowerThru today!

  1. […] Stop sending mail to users who are unlikely to open them. We recommend marking all users who have not opened an email in the last 6 months as undeliverable. Now, this can be scary since it amounts to taking thousands or tens of thousands of addresses off your list. If it helps, it’s fine to just take these people ‘out of circulation’, and not delete them. You can do that by adding inactive addresses to a group that gets excluded from most of your email sends. But especially if you’re already in spam jail, it’s really important to stop the bleeding by re-shelving these people into an unused part of your list until you can solve the broader deliverability issue, and then re-activate them later. Note that this is also a really good way to avoid “spam traps” (an increasingly prevalent method of marking your address as a spam sender if you’re not following the rules and curating inactive emails out of circulation), as we’ve talked about before. […]

  2. […] Make sure you’re set up to automatically disable addresses that hard bounce, or soft bounce 2-4 times. This is a fundamental email deliverability best practice. It will prevent you from sending email that we KNOW can’t get delivered (and dragging down your response rates overall). If you’re a Salsa customer a lot of this is already built into your system (yay!), but there is an additional free package to add – the bounce limits package. Read our email list cleaning guide for more ideas. […]

Comments are closed.